The Five Stages of Becoming

by Rudri Bhatt Patel

You don’t become an adult when you turn twenty-one. That’s a myth. You become an adult when you cremate your father. Acceptance is pushing the button in the crematorium, realizing that within one day, the father you can touch, can hug, is now ready to be picked up in a cardboard box from a guy named Earl with a Southern drawl. He has never met you or your father. He hands you the box. You say “Thank you” like it is a gift.

It isn’t fair. Not life or death. But you sit with this a while. Through every chemo, radiation treatment, meeting people younger and older than your father. People still trying to muster a smile, eating Frito Lay chips, cracking dumb jokes about nothing in particular. The oncologist says great guy, bad tumor, but somehow that makes you feel worse. Your father says tell no one, and you keep it a secret for four years. We pretend to be a happy family.

Please, not my father. You give up your favorite ice cream (peppermint) to save him. You listen to every motivational tape so you can encourage him to rally when he vomits or has a headache or resists treatment. There is still so much to see in the world. He doesn’t care about the world. He just wants to take a deep breath without feeling like he is suffocating.

Not us. We have good karma, your mother says. WE don’t deserve this. Your mother says this like someone else does. You don’t know what to think. You’re angry that you can’t tell anyone and need an escape. Your friends are partying on New Year’s Eve. You are in a hospital room, watching Dick Clark with a nurse asking if he is ready for more meds. Friends call you at midnight to wish you Happy New Year. You are in the bathroom begging the linoleum walls to make the dying stop. You punch your fist against the door. This only causes more pain.

He doesn’t smoke. How can he get lung cancer? He’s vegetarian. How can he get lung cancer? He exercises regularly. He has no symptoms. There is a five by six centimeter mass on his right lung. The radiologist got it wrong. There must be some mistake.

Rudri Bhatt Patel is a former attorney turned writer and editor. Prior to attending law school, she graduated with an MA in English with an emphasis in creative writing. She is the co-founder and co-editor of the literary journal, The Sunlight Press, and on staff at Literary Mama. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Civil Eats, Saveur, Dame Magazine, Brain, Child Magazine, Literary Mama, Mothers Always Write, Phoenix New Times and elsewhere. She is currently working on a memoir on grief, the Hindu culture, and how it provides perspective on life’s ordinary graces. She lives in Arizona with her family.

Artwork by: Eleanor Leonne Bennett